Toronto police have a long road to meaningful reforms

John Sewell — 

Optimists think this is the year the Toronto Police Services will be significantly changed and reformed.
They point out that a Transformation Committee has been established to review police practices and spending.

The committee consists of senior members from the board and the staff, as well as an equal number of outsiders such as the well-regarded former JohnSewellToronto Auditor General Jeffrey Griffiths and David Soknacki, a former city councillor, budget chief and candidate for mayor.

When he ran for mayor in 2014, Soknacki said he wanted to get rid of the rule requiring two officers in a car after a dark, a change that he estimated would save at least $50 million a year.
The committee is to report mid-year on changes which will be put in place before 2017.

It is good to have optimists among us. They provide hope in what might otherwise be seen as a depressing and rather bleak environment. City council has just agreed to provide the police service with slightly more than $1 billion to spend this year—an increase of several percentage points above last year—while every other city service was required to do with less.

Worse than that the police service, unlike every other arm of the city, was not required to provide a full and detailed budget estimate of how that money would be spent.
This is so astounding that few are able to get their heads around it. They ask: Did the police not provide a detailed plan of how that billion dollars would be spent? No, they did not.

Since November I have asked for the full and detailed budget. Last year it was a document of about 750 pages. When in late January police staff told me a detailed budget had not been prepared I was dumb-founded. The CBC put the matter to Mayor John Tory. He said he had in fact seen the full budget and it would be made available to the public. To date no such document has been produced.

Then, on Feb. 22, police staff told me exactly what materials had been presented to the board: a 6-page summary of spending; an organization chart of the police; a 3-page summary of spending changes between 2015 and 2016; a list of grants; reports on two programs that the city staff had requested, court security and transporting prisoners.

The mayor had been less than honest. There was no detailed budget. The 6-page summary budget is bare-bones. For instance, it noted that $531 million would be spent on uniformed officers and $157 million on civilian staff. No breakdown was given for these very large sums, or how these staff would be used.

There was no report on how much can be spent by, for example, 52 Division or any of the other 16 police divisions; nor on spending by detectives or allocations to any of the dozen or so detective units; nor on the savings because carding will not be something police can carry out in such a wide scale manner; nor on TAVIS, where police sweep through communities, stopping and questioning whom they choose; nor on guns and gangs; nor on expenditures for police weapons, the number and power of which are growing each year; nor on Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams.

In short, when the police service was allocated just over $1 billion to spend this year, it wasn’t required to provide detail of what it would do with that money. If that is how the year begins, what can we expect from the Transformation Committee when half of its members are responsible for this decision to not do serious budgeting?

The optimist would say there are well-known ways to save considerable sums in policing:

  • The optimist would say there are well-known ways to save considerable sums in policing:
  • Get rid of the rule requiring two officers in every car after dark;
  • Stop random patrol work, a waste of petroleum and human energy;
  • Revise the practice of police responding to calls with one, two, three, or more cars when it would be easier to talk to the caller in a police station;
  • Ramp up civilianization to bring some expertise to the jobs officers now do which have nothing to do with safety and security.

None of these ideas are new. They have been around for many years and the police establishment has always found ways to not implement them. When those in control of the police service demand more money and then show they are not willing to produce a detailed budget of how to spend $1 billion, why trust them with a new committee with a fancy name?

John Sewell is a former Mayor of Toronto. His most recent book is How We Changed Toronto, 1969 – 1980.